Wibaux County Museum Complex
- Things to See, Museums
- General info
The Town of Wibaux and the County of Wibaux are both named for Pierre Wibaux, a Frenchman who gave up opportunities in his family’s textile business to seek his fortune in the cattle industry of the American northwest.
Arriving in the area in 1883, a young man of 27, Pierre established his ranch headquarters, the W-Bar, 12 miles north of town on Beaver Creek. He ran cattle on the open range in an area covering nearly 70,000 acres. Among his western friends were Teddy Roosevelt, who was then ranching about 30 miles east of Wibaux in the Dakota badlands, and the Marquis de Mores, a fellow Frenchman who had undertaken a grandiose meatpacking and meat marketing enterprise in Dakota.
Many ranchers were devastated by the hard, cattle-killing winter of 1886-87, but Wibaux remained optimistic about the future of cattle raising on the plains. He sought additional financing and bought up the surviving livestock, knowing they would be a hardy base for his expanded herds. By 1889, he had accumulated more than 40,000 head of livestock and employed 25 to 30 cowboys.
The town which had been known as Mingusville, one of the largest cattle shipping points on the Northern Pacific Railroad, was renamed Wibaux in 1895. Some reports say Pierre himself carried petitions for the name change.
As the 19th century and the days of open grazing came to a close, Pierre Wibaux was diversifying into banking and mining. He died in 1913 at the age of 55.
On the National Register of Historic Places
While his ranch home burned in the 1920s, one building that belonged to Pierre Wibaux still exists. The Pierre Wibaux Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1892 by Pierre Wibaux and Henry Boice of the Berry-Boice Cattle Company as a town office building. Within a year of its construction, Wibaux had bought out Boice’s interest in the building and hired a French gardener to landscape the grounds. The complex became known as “The Park,” a well-known landmark to railroad travelers. It originally faced north, toward the railroad tracks.
The office building was restored in 1972 and is now the heart of the Wibaux community’s museum complex. It displays items that once belonged to Pierre Wibaux, such as his desk and dishes, as well as other items relating to area ranching history
Other exhibits include:
The 1900s barbershop and bathhouse building on the museum grounds was originally built in 1889 as an assay office. Almost a hundred years later, it was moved to the museum grounds and restored with the aid of a Cultural and Aesthetic Projects Grant from the State of Montana. In addition to early-day barbershop furnishings and a beautiful barbershop back bar, the building houses local history items, including the first indoor bathroom in Wibaux County, completely reassembled.
A third component of the museum complex is a livery stable decorated on the outside with area brands. Inside are forges, horseshoes, branding irons, and other furnishings of a livery stable, early-day machineries such as a 1925 Rumley Oil Pull tractor and the first fire wagon used by county firefighters, and O.M. Helvik’s shoe repair shop equipment.
Additional museum items, such as a heavy chain used to fight prairie fires from horseback, school memorabilia, arrowheads, wildlife mounts, and even a petrified oyster found along Beaver Creek, can be seen in a railroad car which was once part of the Montana Territorial Centennial Train which was on display at the World’s Fair in New York City in 1964. The car also serves as an information center for visitors seeking Montana maps and travel brochures.
Pierre Wibaux Statue
Mr. Wibaux requested in his will to be buried beneath a twice life-size statue depicting himself as a cowboy, overlooking the “land he loved so well.” This statue is located on West Oregon Avenue.
Pierre Wibaux Home
Old St. Peter’s Catholic Church
Also on West Oregon Avenue is the old St. Peter’s Catholic Church. A stained glass window at the back of the church notes that the church was constructed in 1895 through the generosity of Pierre Wibaux in honor of St. Peter. Originally a frame structure, the church was later covered with beautiful, native lava rock.
Tours daily from Memorial Day-Labor Day. Admission is free.
Reprinted from Pierre Wibaux Museum brochure.
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